TAMPA, Fla. -- When I voted (as an alternate) for Warren Sapp as a candidate for the Professional Football Hall of Fame, I did so unenthusiastically.
Don't get me wrong -- I thought Sapp was a Hall of Fame football player. I just didn't think of him as a Hall of Fame person. I had covered Sapp in his early years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when I worked for The Tampa Tribune and had seen plenty of boorish behavior out of him. But the Hall of Fame rules state that the only thing that matters is what a player did on the field.
Sapp made the Hall of Fame and he deserved it, but I didn't feel any joy when he was elected. It's completely different this year with Derrick Brooks getting selected the first time he was on the ballot.
Brooks and Sapp were the cornerstones of Tampa Bay's turnaround from a doormat to a regular playoff contender. They were best friends. But they're as different as two people can be.
Brooks is a Hall of Fame person. Through his lengthy career and since then, Brooks always has carried himself with class and dignity. I'm genuinely happy for Brooks.
I would have been even happier if former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy and safety John Lynch, two other guys who were great on and off the field, were selected along with Brooks. But Dungy and Lynch came up short in the balloting this year. I think both have a good shot to get in at some point.
But this is about Brooks. Following Sapp and the late Lee Roy Selmon, Brooks is only the third player who spend the majority of his career with the Bucs to make the Hall of Fame. He'll also join them in the team's Ring of Honor, and probably have his jersey (No. 55) retired.
For years, Selmon was the standard when it came to talking about the best player in franchise history. Plus, Selmon was as great off the field as he was on it. Sapp entered the argument for best player in franchise history when he went into the Hall of Fame last year. But even die-hard Tampa Bay fans were lukewarm with their feelings about Sapp -- the person -- because they'd seen or heard about his moodiness.
There are countless stories about Sapp blasting fans who had the nerve to approach him in public. There are almost as many stories about Brooks stepping in and preventing what could have been uglier scenes.
When Brooks and Sapp were in their heyday, they often went out to dinner together. Brooks knew how to read his friend's mood, which often was far from welcoming. On those occasions, Brooks would politely intercept fans and tell them, "This isn't a good time."
But Saturday's selection of Brooks to the Hall of Fame marks a great time for Tampa Bay and fans of the Bucs. There are no bittersweet feelings about Brooks in Tampa Bay. There's only adoration for a guy who firmly proved good things can happen to good people.